The leaves are starting to fall. The hot, humid days of summer are giving way to crisp, cool, throw-an-extra-blanket-on-the-bed nights.
And your ragweed allergy has you running for the protection of your well-sealed home and slamming your windows shut. If you feel like your allergies are worse, or lingering longer than normal this year, it’s because they are. Climate change, and the resulting higher temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide, allow pollen-producing plants to live longer and to produce more potent pollen. And this year, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology announced that the season will extend through October, rather than ending in September as it normally does.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer for 4 more weeks. The foods you eat (and don't eat) can help stifle your sniffling, particularly seasonal foods that are available now from your farmers’ market. So grab your reusable shopping bags and hit the market for these nine fresh finds.
This precious piece of produce serves two purposes in annihilating your allergy symptoms: It’s high in allergy-relieving vitamin C and it’s a member of the crucifer family, plants that have been shown to clear out blocked-up sinuses. Researchers have found about 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day can ease allergy symptoms, and just 1 cup of raw broccoli packs about 80 mg. For another fall-flavored vitamin C boost, try cabbage or cauliflower, two other, related cruciferous vegetables. Both pack 56 mg of vitamin C per cooked cup.
Don't just admire kale as a garnish. Eat it! This superfood packs a one-two punch against allergies. Like broccoli, it’s a member of the crucifer family, but it’s also rich in the carotenoid department, packing a form of vitamin A thought to improve allergy symptoms. A number of studies have shown that people with low vitamin A stores are more likely to have asthma and allergy problems.
Hijacked by hay fever? Put collard greens on the menu. Their phytochemical content, mainly carotenoids, eases allergy issues. The darker the leaves, the higher the carotenoid content. They do require some patience to cook, however. Tough, fibrous veggies like collards need to cook anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour in order for your body to absorb their nutrients easily. Some vitamins will leach out into your cooking water, or “pot likker,” as Southerners call it. Use that water in soups or stews, or use it to cook some rice to serve with your leafy greens in order to maximize the nutrients your body absorbs.
Onions and garlic are packed with quercetin, another secret weapon that helps fight allergies by acting like an antihistamine. Quercetin also acts like vitamin C and quells inflammation in your system, which helps stem the side effects associated with allergic inflammation, such as stuffy noses. However, quercetin isn’t absorbed very easily from food. So, although eating lots of onions and garlic may ward off some symptoms, you might consider a 400 to 500 mg supplement if you have severe fall allergies.
Like broccoli and leafy greens, pumpkins are rich in allergy-fighting carotenoids, the form of vitamin A that you need to stockpile in order to better ward off allergies. If your only dietary experience with pumpkin has been in breads or pies, you may not know how versatile it can be. Try it in a main dish, as in this recipe for Beef and Pumpkin Stew, or in Pumpkin Kugel.
Another carotenoid powerhouse, carrots contain lots of healthy beta-carotene to help ward off your ragweed misery. You'll get more of the valuable vitamin if you lightly steam your carrots, rather than eating them raw, or sauté them with a healthy fat, such as coconut oil or ghee, a form of clarified butter.
Celery is full of vitamin C and anti-inflammatory compounds, making it a great tool in fighting not just allergies, but also high blood pressure and chronic pain. It’s one vegetable that you can eat raw or cooked without losing access to its nutrients. And don’t ignore the leaves; chop those up for use in soups and stews to get their vitamin C content, as well.
Even though it’s not necessarily a food, or a fall-specific herb, you can’t discuss natural allergy remedies without hailing stinging nettle. It helps stifle the inflammation that occurs when you’re experiencing allergy symptoms. Stinging nettle contains histamine, the chemical your body produces during an allergic reaction, so it helps you acquire tolerance. Look for 500 mg freeze-dried nettle capsules in your natural health store, and take three times a day. That’s the best form for allergy relief; it won’t sting because it’s freeze-dried. Long-term use of the herb is not recommended, since it can deplete your potassium stores.
There’s nothing like a warm bowl of soup when you’re feeling sick, and while this usually pertains to chicken soup for the flu, an expert on herbs developed this soup to naturally battle allergies. In The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns (Rodale, 2008), herb expert James Duke, Ph.D., recommends this allergy-fighting soup recipe:
Even though foods can be great natural allergy cures, some can actually trigger allergy symptoms. The condition is called "oral allergy syndrome" and occurs when your body mistakes proteins in certain foods for the same allergic proteins in ragweed. On the upside, cooking those foods neutralizes the offending proteins. So if you’re a fall allergy sufferer, here are few foods to either cook first or avoid entirely during allergy season: apples, bananas, melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cucumber, zucchini, chamomile tea, echinacea, honey, and nuts.